Project at Peril
Following in the Footsteps of Patriots Is Crucial
The whole nation commemorated the centennial anniversary of the death of independence fighter Ahn Jung-geun on Friday. Prime Minister Chung Un-chan presided over an official ceremony, and various public and private organizations held exhibitions as well as performed plays and musicals.
It was good to see various groups of conflicting ideas and interests make a rare show of unity to extol the heroic deeds of the martyr a century ago. A question still lingers, however: Did Korea need to wait 100 years to genuinely memorialize Ahn?
And such a query explains why the nation has still not been able to find the remains of Ahn buried somewhere in northeastern China and lay them to rest in his much-longed-for homeland. If the nation had shown interests in this task not long after the liberation, the job might have been far easier. Now, the Chinese government doesn't seem to care much, while its Japanese counterpart has pretended not to know from the start.
President Lee Myung-bak has rightly vowed his administration would do all it could to find and bring back the remains. It is long overdue but the government should have tackled this job as a national project in view of the importance of the deceased hero in the nation's history of struggling to retain and regain its sovereignty. Just compare this with the attitude of the U.S. government, which does not spare time or money to repatriate even the bodies of unknown soldiers.
It is also somewhat assuring in this regard that Seoul would raise this issue in a foreign ministers' meeting with Japan and China in May and seek the cooperation of the two neighbors.
The government must take further steps to preserve the relics in China related with anti-Japanese armed struggles. Reports say the old headquarters of the National Liberation Army in Chongqing is in danger of being pulled down by local developers. One way to keep these sites of historical importance intact would be for Seoul to purchase or permanently lease them for management by Korean embassies or other public organizations. A country which cannot preserve records and materials concerning its history is like a soulless person, however rich it may be.
It is more than just regretful in this vein that the nation has yet to launch an official project to compile all data about Ahn, including his autobiography and other writings, into a complete collection, not least because he was not a terrorist or an assassin as Tokyo alleges but a thinker, educator and fighter for not just Korea's independence but also global peace.
Ahn's calls for peaceful coexistence of all countries, including an East Asian Union through a common bank and currency, was an idea that came a century ahead of his contemporaries and has only now been realized in Europe and is being sought in Asia. This is why some historians say Ahn's assassination of the then-Japanese Prime Minister Hirobumi Ito, who attempted a similar union but by the means of armed occupation, was a pacifist's punishment of an imperialist.
And this is why Ito's modern day successor, Yukio Hatoyama, needs to repay the debts of his ancestors and pay tribute to the initiator of his idea on the East Asian Community by positively cooperating with the search for Ahn's remains.
Most importantly, the ongoing national fervor for the nation's most famous independence fighter should not end as a fleeting fad. If the past is any guide, however, one cannot completely rule out chances of such concerns becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.